Friday, November 18, 2011

Totally Green Apples

MICHAEL PHILLIPS has spent more than 20 years growing apples up here in the north country, 30 miles south of Quebec, and debunking the commonly held belief that his favorite fruit can’t survive without pesticides.
Not that he hasn’t taken some hits.
“I lost 50 apple trees getting my degree in borers,” said Mr. Phillips, 54, on a recent afternoon, standing by a Northern Spy tree, one of 240 apple trees on this hilly 58-acre farmstead called Heartsong Farm. He was speaking of the round-headed apple-tree borer, in particular, which can kill a tree if undetected.
Most growers spray their trees with a pesticide, like Lorsban, to kill the borers. But Mr. Phillips uses neem oil, which comes from the neem tree, to interrupt the insect’s life cycle.
He also feeds his trees with composted wood chips, plants comfrey around the roots and sprays them with concoctions of horsetail and stinging nettles.
Mr. Phillips broke new ground with “The Apple Grower: A Guide for the Organic Orchardist,” a 1998 book that defied the common belief that apples cannot be grown without chemical pesticides. At the time, he allowed that fungicides, like copper and sulfur sprays, were sometimes necessary. (Both compounds may be used by certified organic growers.)
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